PASADENA, Calif. (Oct. 23, 2015) – Last year's squad fought through challenges presented by its small squad size and relative dearth of experience, but the Caltech women's swimming and diving team appears poised to improve significantly upon last year's results with nearly everyone returning and two major additions.
"Our depth was definitely a problem last year, but we still managed to improve individually throughout the season and saw some great swims at the SCIAC Championships," Head Coach Jack Leavitt said. "If we can carry that trend to this year with a bigger team and our freshmen – who should make a significant impact – this will be a memorable season."
The Beavers return their top individual point scorer at last year's SCIAC Championships in junior Zofii Kaczmarek (New York, N.Y. / Stuyvesant), who placed 10th on the 3-meter and 14th on the 1-meter boards to score 16 points. Kaczmarek improved on her rookie year scores by over 100 points combined as she has quickly taken to diving following a high school gymnastics career.
"Zofii has proven each year that she can get a lot better very quickly," Leavitt said. "Her ability is invaluable to us in dual meets and at championships."
Sophomore Robin Brown (Potomac, Md. / Richard Montgomery) also returns after picking up the sport as a freshman and will be joined by senior Alexandra Ilic (Austin, Texas / Westlake), who is making the switch from swimming in her final season.
"Robin had a solid start to her career having never dove before and should be able to progress a lot faster this year with some experience now," Leavitt said. "Alex feels she can make a bigger impact for us on the boards and is very eager to learn as much as she can quickly. We're excited to see how she finishes her career at Caltech."
The team's top point scorers this season are likely to be a pair of newcomers. Freshman Brittany Percin (Moraga, Calif. / Stanford Online) and Gemma Takahashi (San Jose, Calif. / Leland) both arrive as possibly the highest-rated recruits in program history, with multiple high school times faster than team records and some even approaching NCAA 'B" cuts. Percin specializes in mid-distance freestyle and butterfly while Takashi is more of a sprinter, but each has enough versatility to cover as many as 10 events between them.
"It is really exciting to bring in two women who could make an impact in every dual meet and score in anything they swim at SCIACs," Leavit said. "We'll plug them into several events throughout the season, with an eye on where they'll make the most impact at the end of the year."
Senior Grace Lee (Artesia, Calif. / Gretchen Whitney), junior Kate Evans (Cumming, Ga. / Lambert) and sophomore Katherine Guo (Naperville, Ill. / Neuqua Valley) comprise the rest of the returning squad. The trio will once again be relied upon as key relay members and to fill out the backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle events.
"Grace has been with us for three years and picked up so much every one of them," Leavitt said. "Kate and Katherine have a chance to make a big leap with things not being so new to them – they can spend time on just getting better and finding out what they're capable of."
Another familiar face is that of senior Tiffany Zhou (Brentwood, Calif. / Heritage), who has rejoined the team after a one-year hiatus. Freshmen Jessica Choi (San Diego, Calif. / Torrey Pines), Maria Newport (Tenafly, N.J. / Tenafly) and Xiaohan Xue (Memphis, Tenn. / White Station) complete the squad and are already showing potential.
"Maria, Jessica and Helen all have some high school or club experience, which will serve them well in making the transition to college," Leavitt said. "I'm glad Tiffany decided to come back after putting in so much work to improve two years ago. With the bigger roster, we'll see where they can help us stay competitive in dual meets by spreading out across all the events and picking up some crucial points on relays."
Another addition for the coming season is assistant coach Connor Beaulieu, a 2014 graduate of Amherst College and multiple-time All-Conference honoree.
"Connor has already made a huge impact with his deep passion for swimming and helping student-athletes get better," Leavitt said.
Sights are set higher across the board this season – the Beavers will be looking to break records, score points in bunches and challenge some teams they haven't in years.
"This team is moving in the right direction for sure," Leavitt said. "We've added some talent and depth that will enable us to do some things we weren't the past couple years. We have a lot of positives to look forward to, this year and beyond."
Leavitt and the Beavers open the 2015-16 season on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Pomona-Pitzer Colleges.